By His Highness Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz.
First published in The Borneo Post on 22nd August 2014
I USED to have an antipathetic attitude to running: what’s the point of just running, I argued with friends possessed by the craze, when you can run with a racquet and hit something? Placing a ball or shuttlecock, performing a correct swing and anticipating the location and intentions of an opponent all introduce elements of tactics and strategy, compared to mindless cardiovascular plodding.
But now, having trained for and completed my first 10km-event during the Seremban Half Marathon last Sunday, I have become ambivalent about the sport: mainly because of improvements to my squash and the opportunities it provides to visit our parks.
The convenience of the Lake Gardens is matched by its beauty: bridges over lilied ponds containing the occasional inexplicable old skiff (which upon closer inspection contain juxtaposing rubbish) provide succour against the backdrop of the towers of KL Sentral, and by jumping a gate you can do a hillier long route that takes you past Carcosa Seri Negara – and suddenly you are reminded that all of this geography was originally a colonial project.
The garden’s official name now makes no reference to that history: the word “Perdana” was added to its title in 1975 and then the word “Lake” was replaced in 2011, so it’s now officially the Perdana Botanical Gardens.
Certainly only very few young Malaysians will know that Jalan Perdana was once Venning Road, named for Alfred Venning, the architect of the Lake Gardens and founder member of the “Europeans only” Lake Club who served as Selangor State Treasurer and Chairman of the Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board.
(It took the intervention of World War II, Sultan Hisamuddin Alam Shah of Selangor and newly-elected Umno president Tunku Abdul Rahman for the club to admit Malayans.)
Another decent afternoon was provided by Taman Tasik Permaisuri in Cheras, where there’s masses of parking since it’s next to the stadium of the Kuala Lumpur Football Association.
A springy jogging track hugs the lake, though a hilly detour is available through the trees.
It would have been nearly as pleasant as the Lake Gardens if only the “no bicycles” signs weren’t insulted by the sputtering of motorcycles driven by helmet-less boys weaving through the morass of competing groups of joggers.
To continue the sociological experiment, one morning of training was in Desa Park City, where there seems to be no hint of xenophobia as outsiders seamlessly share the well-kept parks with local residents out with their families, though not all dogs were on leashes as they should have been – and subsequent refreshment is plentiful.
Then there was the race itself.
I don’t often get to see Seremban on a Sunday sunrise – it is remarkably serene, even with nearly 10,000 people assembled for the morning out.
I fired the gun to start one category of the run, and then the Tunku Besar Seri Menanti started mine.
Initially surrounded by professional-looking Negeri Sembilan runners who had monopolised the front of the queue, the adage “slow and steady wins the race” obviously had many definitions: after the swarm of the serious, I was overtaken by the super-fit veterans and gangly yet astonishingly quick schoolchildren – boys and girls.
The route (a new one apparently) was hillier than expected, but the undulations afforded good views of the crowd, and it was clear that this gathering of thousands was truly an accurate demographic sample of Malaysia: diverse ethnicities, religious beliefs, social classes and age groups all voluntarily gathering to participate in something that at the end of the day relies on individual merit.
The organisers of political marches like to claim that they are able to get thousands of Malaysians together to protest a cause: but even without the machinery of political parties, and in the absence of collective anger, that so many people congregate to give themselves a challenge speaks volumes about the popularity of the sport.
In the prize-giving ceremony, the event’s chairman Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad paid homage to the memory of Tuanku Ja’afar: the run began its life 27 years ago in conjunction with Almarhum’s birthday.
His Royal Highness’ widow Tunku Ampuan Najihah asked me how I did: and I had to reveal a slight diversion which, thankfully, did not distort my average time of just over seven minutes per kilometre.
That wasn’t the only run that day: over 5,000 appeared for the Kuching Marathon, and 14,000 people were registered for the unabashedly “happy” Color [sic] Run in KL (the misspelling arises because it’s a trademark of US origin).
There was barely any news coverage for all three of these events: all superseded by a political marathon in Selangor.
There too, slow and steady may win the race.